Teenage wunderkind Joseph Suaalii marked his senior debut with a brace of tries to help North Sydney beat Canberra 26-18 in a NSW Cup trial at Seiffert Oval.
It's not often that a pre-season reserve grade fixture rates much of a mention, but the curtain-raiser to the main Roosters-Raiders clash was perhaps more anticipated thanks to the 17-year-old.
Suaalii scored in both halves for the Bears – the Roosters' feeder team – as they overcame a half-time deficit, but was helped from the field with five minutes remaining due to cramp.
One of the most exciting prospects in recent memory, Suaalii has joined the Roosters system this season after reluctantly being released by the Rabbitohs, where he played junior representative football, and intense interest from rugby union.
Tricolours forward Angus Crichton, who was a standout in the Roosters' win over the Raiders in the main game, had nothing but praise for Suaalii.
"[I saw] a little bit [of his game]. A really good kid. I can't say a bad word about him. The way he trains, the way he carries himself as a man," Crichton said.
"[He's got] a really bright future, [he's] really humble and really looking forward to playing alongside him, hopefully, at some point. I've been watching him grow."
Stand aside: Suaalii stars in first senior match
Initially facing off against Seb Kris at right centre and wearing black headgear, The King's School product was well-marked but held his own, making the most of his attacking chances and defending strongly.
The composed performance didn't hurt his case for the NRL to bend their rules so the supremely talented athlete can play first-grade before his 18th birthday on August 1.
The Roosters have made an application to the NRL to allow Suaalii to play before he is 18. The ARL Commission has requested more information from the club before a decision will be made and is awaiting a response from the Roosters.
Another highly-rated teen, Sam Walker, was named at halfback for the Bears but 23-year-old Wales international Josh Ralph instead wore the No.7 and played well as the rising star was held back to make his Roosters debut in the NRL fixture.
Suaalii's first major involvement was a jamming tackle on Kris that helped force a forward pass before he took a solid yardage carry to settle the nerves.
While he wasn't seen in open space, he showcased his size and strength to score in the 16th minute. After a Ralph bomb was tapped back, the ball was sent wide to Suaalii and he backed himself to reach the chalk despite having a clear option to pass. That confidence paid off as he dummied and eventually overpowered Darby Medlyn.
Later, in front of family watching in the Queanbeyan grandstand, Suaalii grabbed his second four-pointer with 14 minutes remaining, stepping off his right foot to beat Matt Frawley.
Earlier, Raiders prop Corey Horsburgh was immense in the opening exchanges as he played his first match since suffering a foot injury in round seven of the NRL last year.
The red-headed forward routinely dented the defence and proved too powerful when barging into the in-goal for the game's first points.
Canberra also had regular first-graders Bailey Simonsson, Ryan James, Emre Guler and Ryan Sutton returning from injuries.
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Ex-Titans prop James – who hadn't played since round six, 2019 due to back-to-back ACL injuries – came on midway through the first half and looked fit for his new team as he punched out decent minutes.
A loose pass from North Sydney five-eighth Ronald Volkman allowed Brigham Moeakiola to scoop up the scraps and sprint away to give the Raiders a 12-4 half-time lead.
Ben Thomas crashed over for the Bears courtesy of a lovely close-range face-ball from hooker Freddy Lussick, then Ralph broke through and offloaded to Naufahu Whyte to give the visitors the lead midway through the second term.
Suaalii's second try was counteracted by Tom Starling's four-pointer before Whyte scored his second to wrap up the win for the Bears.